Archive for Saturday, September 17, 2005

By the book

Many Bible versions highlight debate over true word of God

September 17, 2005


Think Baskin-Robbins has variety with its 31 flavors of ice cream? Try shopping for a Bible.

Most bookstores, and especially Christian bookstores, carry dozens of Bibles - everything from cheap paperback varieties to leather-bound Bibles that can run more than $100. There are study Bibles, Bibles with commentaries, Bibles with pictures and Bibles with maps, each with a cover styled to fit your favorite Christian color scheme.

But beyond the superficial differences in Bibles lies one of the longest-running debates in Christian history: Which translation of the Bible truly is the word of God?

"In a way, it gets to be sort of a dizzying effect for some customers," said Michael Martell, owner of Lumena Books, 2201 W. 25th St. "It's just one (Bible) after another."

The debate about which version of the Bible is most authoritative, who translated the different versions and why they did it is the subject of a book, "Misquoting Jesus," due out this fall. It's by Bart Ehrman, a University of North Carolina professor who grew up in Lawrence.

While the book isn't likely to end debate about Bible translations, it may spark conversation over which versions are closest to the long-lost original manuscripts written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.

"The thing to remember is translation is the process of interpretation," said Paul Mirecki, chairman of the religious studies department at Kansas University. "There's no word-for-word translation between these languages. The best thing to do is to learn the original languages, but that's not going to happen for the average person."

Hot sellers

The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, and Clay Belcher still sells quite a few of them.

Belcher, owner of Signs of Life, 722 Mass., says he most frequently sells the New International Version and the King James Version of the Bible.

The King James Version was authored under King James' rule in Britain in 1611 and has been commonplace ever since. The New International Version is among at least 10 translations written in the last half of the 20th century and is widely recognized as scholarly and written in more modern, American English than the King James Bible.

"Those have been the two leading sellers, as I understand it, for 20 years since the NIV came out," Belcher said.

He said the English Standard Version was picking up in sales, and "The Message," a version written in contemporary English in 2002 by scholar Eugene H. Peterson, was popular among the college-aged crowd.

Not so regal?

The King James Version may be popular, but it has its critics.

Mirecki said the translation was based on relatively newer medieval manuscripts of the time, while most translations written in the 20th century were based on much older writings.

"They're much closer to the original text," Mirecki said of the newer versions. "They're more reliable."

He said scribes who wrote the King James Version too often included notes from the margins of texts in the actual biblical verses, adding material that wasn't in earlier versions of the Bible.

He gave this example: In 1John 5:7, there's a reference to the "holy trinity" - the "Father, The Word and the Holy Ghost" - that didn't exist in earlier versions and appears nowhere else in the Bible. He said scholars have come to a consensus that the reference was a later addition.

Still, the King James Version's nearly 400-year-old age gives it authority for some Christians. At Heritage Baptist Church, 1781 E. 800 Road, the Rev. Scott Hanks said the King James Bible was the only translation used.

Several Bible translations allow readers to choose a version of the Scriptures they prefer, from the older style of the King James Version to a modern interpretation like that of "The Message."

Several Bible translations allow readers to choose a version of the Scriptures they prefer, from the older style of the King James Version to a modern interpretation like that of "The Message."

"I believe it's the closest thing to the original," Hanks said. "It's the word of God preserved for the English-speaking people. All of these other versions subtract words or whole verses that we find in the King James Version. I believe every word God preserved, so every word is important."

New language

The language barrier, and not the accuracy factor, may be enough to turn some Christians away from the King James Version's English.

The Rev. Darrell Proffitt, pastor at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Sixth St., said even he had to consult a dictionary occasionally while reading the King James Version.

"I grew up hearing the King James Bible, and I never understood what was said," Proffitt said. "When I got older and heard a more contemporary translation, the word started to come alive for me."

He said he favored keeping several versions of the Bible open to compare different translations when reading particular passages. Most mainstream Bibles tend to be fairly similar in their translations, he said, but small differences in words can give a particular piece of Scripture a different nuance in meaning.

Proffitt said he had no problems with newer versions of the Bible, such as "The Message," that put old concepts and speech into a contemporary tone.

"Jesus spoke the language of the people," Proffitt said.

The Rev. Thad Holcombe, director of Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave., agreed that "The Message" was an acceptable way for some to understand the Bible.

"It's very accessible," Holcombe said. "It's a colloquial kind of language. It's probably not the best translation per se, but it tries to do the best to make it relevant to today. It's written very well in terms of articulating the scripture."

Comfort level

In the end, a person's Bible choice might come down to ease of reading as much as anything else.

"In some ways it has to do not just with personal affinity, but with religious piety and family persuasion," said the Rev. Marcus McFaul, senior pastor at First Baptist Church, 1330 Kasold Drive. "If you grew up hearing the King James Version and were taught that's the original version, you might have a hard time buying into the (Revised Standard Version) or the (New Revised Standard Version)."

His church has New Revised Standard Version Bibles in its pews. The edition is endorsed by many mainline congregations.

"It's very accessible, and the fact that many people worked on it and came to the conclusion is better," said the Rev. Mick Mulvany, priest at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 6001 Bob Billings Parkway. "It's less a point of contention."

But Mulvany said he didn't worry too much about what version of the Bible a parishioner is carrying.

"I generally tell folks to use what they have around," he said. "I've never seen something where the words of Christ are so misguided or misdirected that it changes the intent between the parable, the reading or the words."


John 3:16 King James: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." New International Version: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." New Revised Standard: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." The Message: "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." Psalm 23: 1-3 King James: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." New International Version: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." New Revised Standard: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake." The Message: "God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction."


rtwngr 12 years, 6 months ago

Exuse me. May I ask a question?

Which version of the New Testament were the apostles using in the years after the crucifixion? You know, when they went to Corinth, and Ephesia.

That's why there is a Church, established by Christ, headed by a bishop in Rome.

BrianR 12 years, 6 months ago

There was no New Testament in the years after the crucifixion. The NT wasn't written until over a generation after the crucifixion. Written by mostly uneducated guys who didn't know Christ as a living person. And even then there were printing presses mostly scrolls but nothing remotely resembling a book as we know it.

It amuses me that when man created his god, he made his god omniscient and omnipotent; exactly what mankind thinks of itself--a god in man's own image.

The infallible word of God, that's rich and it's a fiction.

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